Ease the protections

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 28, 1999

From staff reports


Tuesday, December 28, 1999

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A murder case involving a juvenile in St. Paul illustrates graphically some key problems with the juvenile justice system.

First, there is near-total anonymity.

Second, is lack of accountability.

In this case, the 13-year-old girl was charged with third-degree murder in the death of her 3-year-old half-brother, who was beaten and stabbed before he drowned in his bathtub.

Starting with lack of accountability, she cannot stand trial as an adult, even for murder, and cannot remain under court jurisdiction past her 19th birthday.

Moving on to anonymity, it is possible her name and details of the boy’s death may never be released.

Now, the girl has yet to stand trial, and has not been convicted of a crime.

But if she is, it is troubling to know that she’ll be free in society in six years, and no one will know of her murder conviction.

Equally troubling, the anonymous nature of the juvenile court system shrouds the truth about juvenile crime as a whole in secrecy. While aiming to protect young offenders and give them a chance of rehabilitation, the system makes it difficult, if not impossible for citizens to understand what young people are doing wrong, and what is being done about it. Often, juveniles amass long criminal records, but do not appear in public records until they do something really serious, or continue to commit crimes as adults.

It is up to the state Legislature to ease the protections provided for juveniles such that the public good is better served.